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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The beauty of eggplant

Eggplant may be one of the most underappreciated vegetables. No one in my family will eat it and in truth I love it in a few dishes but can't think of many appealing ways to fix it--it soaks up so much grease. But I bought these two beauties to make eggplant parmesan for company. My longtime friend Linda and her husband, Rodger, came for supper last night. A couple of days ago, at memoir class, I gave Linda three menu choices: eggplant parmesan, lamb shanks or mustard/rosemary crusted pork loin. I expected her to choose the pork loin but she said Rodger would probably want the lamb shanks--I agreed they sound heavy--and she loves eggplant parmesan. So that was my project yesterday morning.
I've had this recipe for years and can't remember where I got it, but it calls for ground beef--to my mind, egglant parmesan (or Parmeganio) is often vegetarian. In this version, you stir the sauteed eggplant into a mix of sauteed beef and tomato sauces; add parmesan, breadcrumbs, and eggplant;  stuff mixture into the eggplant shells. Top with mozarella and broil. Makes a pretty presentation, if I do say so.
This with the marinated veggies I wrote about in a previous post made a complete supper. Oh, there were those chocolate/mint truffles--my splurge at Central Market.

Eggplant parmesan

Trim two eggplants, halve lengthwise, and hollow out, leaving shells intact, about 1/4 inch thick. Cut meat of the plant into 1/2 inch cubes and saute in vegetable oil until soft. Drain on paper towels.

In skillet, brown 2 lbs. ground beef, 2 crushed galic coves. Add 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes, 2 cans tomato paste, 1 tsp. salt, pepper to taste.  Simmer 15 minutes.

Stir in 3 c. bread crumbs (about six slices), 2/3 c. grated parmesan, and sauteed eggplant.

Spoon into eggplant shells--it will not all fit, so put the excess in a side dish. Top with mozzarella slices and bake for 30 minutes at 350.

This will serve five to six, but only four people get the pretty shells.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Crudities--or as we call them, veggies

This picture was on Judy's Stew last night, so some of you may think I'm getting lazy and repeating myself. But I am pretty proud of this cruditie tray, especially using bell peppers as cups to hold some veggies. (I really don't like bell peppers and sent the empty shells home with a neighbor at the end of the party.) That's roasted tomatillo salsa in the foreground, for dipping, and I also had ranch dressing--fresh from Central Market, not the bottled variety.
But cruditie trays often leave you a probleem with leftovers--what to do? Here's what I did: took a quart-sized glass jar with a good rubber ring and tight fitting lid and layered it with broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn (not on the crudities tray) and baby carrots, sprinkling each layer with oregano and thyme. When I got the jar full, I added some peppercorns, a good bit of cut garlic, and a couple of bay leaves. Covered it all with olive oil--it takes an amazing amount to seep between the veggies and fill the jar, so I used Central Market's inexpensive organic house brand. The jar is in the refrigerator "aging" or "seasoning." I plan to serve it next Saturday night to company. What I'll do is drain it (it will have to come out of the fridge a couple of hours early so the olive oil will un-congeal--not a word, I know). Then I'll spread it on a bed of lettuce and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and red wine vinegar. Serve with toothpicks, lots of napkins (those veggies will be greasy), and small plastic plates.
Can't report on the success of this until next week, but the jar sure looks pretty. In a way, I'm sorry to have to drain it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cauliflower, scallops, and my neighbor

Learning to tie shoes is hard work, made better by a good friend.
I intended to  post a serious cooking blog tonight about all the good cooking I'd done today--but things didn't quite work out that way. I did begin the day with good spontaneous cooking. Early this morning, I loaded the crockpot with chicken broth, canned tomatoes, a bouillon cube, veggies out of the freezer--carrots, green beans and peas--plus some new potatoes that needed to be used and some spinach I'd bought for the soup. Added salt, pepper, and thyme. Let it simmer while I went to church, and served it for lunch to Elizabeth and Weldon. The carrots, having been frozen, were still a bit crunchy, and the potatoes really weren't soft, but the flavor was great and we each ate two bowls. It was a sendoff luncheon for Elizabeth who is going on a two-week intensive yoga trip to India--and is so excited! Weldon will stay home and experiment with recipes for their gluten-free, dairy-free lifestyle. I have pretty much decided that when I find an odd  recipe I send or save it for them. Today is was kale and macaroni and something.
Tonight's menu was scallop cakes (omigosh, do you know how much a pound of sea scallops costs? On sale, it was $20) and cauliflower. I tossed the cauliflower flowerets with olive oil, salt and thyme and roasted them while makng the soup this morning. Delicious just that way!
Well, tonight, things went awry. My neighor Jay came for a drink (at my invitation) and stayed for supper (at my invitation).  In fact, he cooked--or tried to--the scallop cakes, but something was off. We analyzed it later and decided I needed more flour and I needed to use the elecric skillet instead of the cast iron one which doesn't cook as evenly. But the flavor was great. And I made a vinaigrette dressing for the cauliflower--good stuff.
While we were eating it began to snow, and nothing would do but that Jay, a Vermont native, took Jacob outside to catch snowflakes--big,  wet,sloppy ones on his tongue. Jay kep having to tell him not to close his eyes.
I had every intention of making some chocolate mini cupcakes tonight, but the hilarity of the evening--and the snow--meant it was 9:30 before I got dinner put away. Guess that's a project for tomorrow, The cupcakes take a chocolate cake mix, a can of pumpkin, and a cup of chocolate chip morsels. A Weight Watchers recipe and so delicious!
I may not have been a great cook tonight but I sure had a good time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Aunt Reva's recipes

I'm finishing up a new novel, not part of the Kelly O'Connell series but possibly the first of a new series to be called Blue Plate Special Mysteries. Title undetermined yet. The working title is Deadly Greens but I more like the sound of Mashed Potatoes Can Be Murder. Either would fit the book, which is set in a cafe in a small town in East Texas. The idea comes from The Shed in Edom, Texas. For years, my kids and I visited my good friends the Ogilvies--"Uncle Charles" and "Aunt Reva"--at Arc Ridge, their guest ranch outside Ben Wheeler and ate at The Shed. It's a typical cafe--chicken-fried, fried catfish, great mashed potatoes, wonderful meringue pies, just what you expect. I did order chicken salad once and was dismayed to realize that it came from Sam's. I suppose the food was really good but for us I suspect it was the ambiance and the company. But The Shed is a fond memory, and I hope to go back soon.
I've decided, since this is a semi-culinary mystery, to include recipes as so many authors do these days. And that leads me to a confession--the best food on those trips to Arc Ridge came from Reva's kitchen. She and I had a wonderful time together in the kitchen, and then we served everyone on the porch, which was sort of a Florida room with louvered windows overlooking the small lake in front of their house. It remains in memory as one of the most peacful places I've ever been.After dinner, the kids and I would traipse about a quarter of a mile to our cabin.
Of course, there was the night Aunt Reva served roast, and Uncle Charles asked, "How's your meat, kids?" They all raved that it was great, and he said, "You're eating Houdini." Houdini had been an escape-artist calf who lived in a pen between the ranch house and our cabin, and the kids always stopped to visit with him. I don't remember for sure, but I think they stopped eating.
Reva was raised in a small town in Missouri, and she was a master of down-home cooking. Alas, our memories of Arc Ridge and UncleCharles and Aunt Reva are just that--memories.Both have passed away, and the ranch has been sold. But we all hold the memories tight.
Here are a couple of her recipes I'll share in the book, which is due out February 2013.

Reva’s good beans
I fix this as is in spite of my ironclad rule against including green peppers in anything!
1 3-lb.-4-oz. can Ranch Style beans
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or two 14-oz. cans)
1 onion, chopped
½ green pepper, seeded and diced
Drain beans, but do not rinse. Put into crockpot along with other ingredients and simmer all day if you have to. (You can probably get by with less, but it’s nice to let them thicken up.)

Aunt Reva’s chili relleƱos
2 4-oz. cans whole green chilies
½ lb. sharp cheddar (or as much as you want to use)
5 eggs
¼ c. milk
Grease and butter a pie pan. Spread chilies in a single layer on the pan. Cover with grated cheese. Mix eggs and milk and pour over cheese and chilies. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes or until eggs have set.
These chili rellenos are Colin's particular favorite.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What do you feed the granchildren?

Not sure about this, but I think all seven of my grandchildren will be here at some point this weekend. One is twelve, and then they range from eight to four, with two five-year-olds. One is a vegetarian and the rest are picky as only young children can be, some worse than others, some hungrier than others. Menu planning is a challenge--especially having enough on hand for breakfast and lunch without worrying about Saturday night dinner. My battle plan for that is Mexican food--at Joe T.'s. Edie, who doesn't want meat, can eat beans, rice, guac, cheese enchiladas, and cheese nachos. The dinner comes with beef tacos but I always give them to Christian anyway, so Edie--and her mom--can share them with others.
For breakfast, after an inventory, I decided I have plenty of dry cereal--Fiber One. Okay, it's not Fruit Loops, but it's what I have and it's better for them. I have honey and sugar and milk and maybe blueberries for the bold child. I also have chocolate chip Eggo waffles in the freezer and maple syrup. I'll buy eggs, bacon, and breakfast sausages--Jacob loves the sausages but because I've given them to him for supper, he can't get the concept of eating them for breakfast.

Lunch - sandwich makings will be available, lunch meat and cheese. Most of them don't want lettuce and tomato.

Some variations we might consider for kids:

Instead of a sandwich, layer ham or turkey and cheese (cheddar slice or provolone--I like the latter) and a little mayo. Roll up and serve. KIds will go through a stack of these. You can also use cream cheese in the roll-up. Note: I don't like processed cheese, and I rarely endorse a brand name here, but I think Sargento cheese slices are superior.

Spread crescent rolls with mustard and roll around half a hot dog. Consider adding a half strip of cooked bacon to each.

Depending how open-minded the child is, add pimiento cheese to a hot dog in a bun.

Spark up a meat and cheese sandwich with a slice of bacon.

Vary the pbj by making it with mayo and adding that slice of bacon.  Or make it with banana,  peanut butter and honey (a Jacob favorite).

Desserts: yes, I'll have individual ice cream cups but no chocolate sauce. I gave some to Jacob the other day but I'll explain it was the last of it. How about fruit rollups? Nestle fruit bars? No Twinkies. No junk food.

Here's a recipe I can't vouch for but plan to make tomorrow. It comes from the Febraury issue of Southern Living, and I recommend you buy the whole magazine--for the recipes. They're great, as they always are.

1 c. creamy peanut butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate bits
Parchment paper

Stir all ingredients together, adding chocolate bits last. Put parchment paper on cookie sheets, and coat a tablespoon with cooking spray. Drop tablespoons of dough onto prepared pans. Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes (they should get puffy) and cool.
My cookies never make the amount the recipe says, but this should make around 2 dozen--enough for seven kids for one weekend. The only part that alarms me is working with peanut butter--it's so sticky it's hard to deal with, but these sound good enough to try. I love flourless chocolate cake, so I figure flourless cookies ought to be as moist and good. Jacob will help me make these--I think. If not, he'll hinder me.

Oh, and I might have some "kid wine" (sparkling cider) on hand. I can even serve it in flutes, I think.